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The Slow & Ambling Paths of Plot Percolation June 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Movies, Writing.
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“So, where do your ideas come from?”

It’s one of the more common questions writers are asked.

While still promoting the current Wagstaff novel, I’m also into the develop-the-outline stage of Wagstaff 3 at this point, even while I hone the edges on a different series of books that will appear shortly.

Bow down, helots! I’m a multitasker!

I also made a fresh fettucine bolognese completely from scratch today, but you already knew I’m a CULINARY GENIUS.

Anyway, to get back to the “where do my ideas come from?” tack, since the Wagstaff series regularly features motifs, actors and plot points from all sorts of old movies and TV shows all mashed up together, damn near anything I watch might wind up in one, somewhere.

Especially if all that pop culture junk turns up in some off the wall dream I have. Every dream Wagstaff has in both of the books that turn out to be clues are ACTUAL dreams I’ve had in real life, by the way.  But that’s for another post.

Today, I wound up watching a couple of obscure movies I can tell you about.

I’ve already thought of the main-plot-drivin’ films I think I want to mine for the plotline of Wagstaff 3, but if any quasi-related tangential material crosses my radar, I usually feel obliged to watch it, just in case some detail or odd factor inspires me to use it. It’s basically the same mentality I use when browsing yardsales and thrift stores – I never know what might turn up, but after something does, it feels totally natural.

Today I started by watching Nick Carter: Master Detective, the first of three Nick Carter movies (more…)

Commemorative Baseball Card of the Day: T206 Willie Keeler portrait, circa 1910 June 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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The way-bac machine is traveling to damn near the beginning of baseball cards for this entry.

Wee Willie Keeler. “Hit ’em where they ain’t!”

Today is the day Keeler’s 44 game hitting streak ended in 1897, the year Quentin Collins became a werewolf.

His record would stand until Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak in 1941. Pete Rose would tie him with a 44 game hitting streak in 1978. No one has come close since.

Granted, 1890s baseball was not modern baseball. A real deadball era, where Keeler’s skills in bunting and spray-hitting were valued over slugging, which really came in with Babe Ruth & using fresh baseballs throughout the game. Keeler’s record of consecutive 200 hit seasons wouldn’t be broken until Ichiro Suzuki passed him in 2009. In some ways, Ichiro’s hitting style was a throwback to Keeler’s days, with the spray hitting, bunting, sacrifice, etc.

The survival length of Keeler’s hitting records is amazing. And he’s also credited with basically inventing the hit and run strategy.

He’d unfortunately develop tuberculosis and die way, way too young at age 50 in 1923.

A relation, Edith Keeler, was allowed to die by Captain Kirk in order to restore the proper historic timeline, despite the heartbreak.

Okay, maybe not ALL of this post is accurate. But the baseball stuff certainly is.

Today’s Heartwarming Creepy Old Man Story June 16, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General.
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No, not me. This is ANOTHER creepy old man.

So today I had to drive down to some medical office and give my mom a ride home when her regular ride could not be reached due to telephone problems (long story, whatever). We made the most of it and swung by the best deli in LA for lunch since it wasn’t too far off, and then I dropped her off.

Then I figured since I wouldn’t be back in the Valley for a while, I’d swing by a big thrift store I liked over in North Hollywood to see their book selection.

Hell, yesterday between a YMCA fundraiser and a big dumpy thrift store in Reseda, I’d scored BIG – 9 total books between the 2 stops, with material on stolen art rings, history of food, old movies, and an autographed first edition of a Martin Yan cookbook, among some other items.

I hoped my luck would continue. So I took the long way back to the freeway which would swing me by a regular book hunting stop.

Unfortunately, pickings were thin. It looked like they’d been gleaned pretty well without replenishment from new donations. The only books worth getting were ones I already had (some Lidia Bastianich cookbooks) and ones I really didn’t need (even more cookbooks). Meh, whatever.

Two guys going through the books discussed how the store had been “going downhill” and how there wasn’t as much to pick from. Then one of ’em told a story I eavesdropped on as I browsed about buying some big box of English lace at an auction. I kept hoping he’d discuss wearing it so the story would really get interesting, but he only mentioned it since he had found a book about British lace at this store shortly after that where he discovered that some of the stuff he had was evidently worth quite a lot. Who knew?

And then there was the creepy old dude. (more…)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Belmont Stakes 2017 June 8, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The house feels weird without my cat around. It seems bigger. It’s definitely quieter. And making some chicken salad yesterday without her pestering and bullying me for some felt very lonely.

So I’ve been keeping busy. I’m refining the story outlines for two more books and preparing another for publication in the next few months. Watch this blog for updates! This new book will be the start of a second series, a scifi adventure series for older kids, but certainly one that adults could also enjoy. As much as I bitch about living in the age of terminal adolescence, I may as well try to cash in on it.

And speaking of cashing in, I’ve gone through the lineup and past performances of this year’s Belmont Stakes entries, and have the following thoughts.

The first thing I always do when handicapping the Belmont is to compare the well-rested horses with the ones who have run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Horses who have run the Preakness have fared the worst in the Belmont for the past decade, and horses running in the Derby as well as the Preakness have also crapped out. However, some horses running in the Derby and skipping to the Belmont have done relatively well.

Between those historic patterns and some low speed figures and class problems, I eliminated a number of entries from my picks. Then I look for horses who can close after running a long route. The mile and a half length of this is usually key to picking the winner.

This field, honestly, is a mess. Normally I look at a big-time stakes race like this and I can make arguments for three or four horses winning. This year’s Belmont is like handicapping some low-end claimer race where you try to figure out who is the lest likely to lose. There no strong indicators to me this year, just horses with more question marks than others, although the odds make things interesting.

As erratic as #3 Gormley has been, making the HUGE assumption that he’s back in his Santa Anita Derby form based on recent works would give him an edge here. But this horse has been a roll of the dice nearly every race, you never know what you’ll get. He’s got the potential to be in the front or near the front as they make that final turn. Whether or not he pours it on at the finish is anyone’s guess.

I’d think morning line favorite #7 Irish War Cry will be competitive, but again, here’s a horse that fades towards the end. I could see a duel with Gormley and them tiring each other out so that some other horse passes them with a late burst.

And that horse? Well, if I had to pick potential late surprises, I’d have to go with (a) the wildcard factor of #11 Epicharis who has only run in Japan and Dubai but has done well (and is, at 4-1, the next lowest odds after the morning line favorite) and (b) #9 Meantime, at 15-1 but coming off a great Peter Pan Stakes, with excellent recent works, the addition of Mike Smith in the saddle, and a giant question mark as to whether he can compete at this level or sustain the distance, since he tends to start with a burst of speed. Will Smith temper that enough to save some for the end? You got me, but I wouldn’t throw him out.

I don’t think #8 Senior Investment will win, but this horse is a strong late closer, and ought to figure into any Trifecta/Superfecta type exotics. Ditto for #6 Lookin’ At Lee, who ran fairly well in both the Derby and Preakness, but history tells us that running against better-rested horses over a mile and a half is not a good indicator for getting into the winner’s circle.

So, if I had to put horses in the Win/Place category, I’d have 3,7,9 and 11. And then I’d throw in 6 and 8 for Show/Fourth. Feel free to waste your money along with mine. Because this is AMERICA!




I Will Miss Her June 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Cat Thoughts, General.
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Sad news: my 8 year old Siamese, the star of “Cat Thoughts” on this blog,  lost her year and a half long battle with cancer.

I had her seven years, adopting her as a rescue momcat who had been abandoned along with her kittens. Someone found her, brought her & her family to Kitten Rescue. They let her wean her kittens & spayed her, adopting all of them out. They assumed from her small size that it had been her first litter, and she was probably a little more than a year old.

She was a shy one with strangers, and took a few days to get used to me. For those first few days, she’d hide during daylight hours and suddenly get brave at night, coming out to explore everywhere while meowing nonstop orders at me to open more doors, lift her up to more shelves, and the like. Next morning? Terrified kitty, back hiding under the bed. I thought about naming her Vampirella.

Eventually she did what all cats do, took over my house and declared herself the boss. Over time I figured out what sorts of toys she liked and what sorts she’d ignore. (more…)

Yay! A Plug In Rhode Island’s Major Alternative Publication! June 1, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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Rhode Island’s legendary Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World column in MotifRI has given yours truly a booster shot in their latest column!

Phillipe and Jorge have been writing from Casa Diablo for many years now, offering their darkly humorous take on the cesspit of Rhode Island politics among other topics. Back in the pre-internet days of voluminous dead-tree alternative city papers, they appeared in The Providence Eagle before moving on its competitor, The New Paper, which eventually got swallowed up by it’s Boston counterpart and rose from the takeover ashes as The Providence Phoenix.

The Phoenix folded some years ago, Phillipe & Jorge (otherwise known as Rhode Island’s legendary Rudy Cheeks and Eagle sportswriter Chip Young – OMIGOD, I UNMASKED THEM, SUBPOENA ME IMMEDIATELY!) migrated to MotifRI.

Here’s what they had to say if you didn’t click on the link above:

New Book Reeks of Rhody (and a Lot More)

Kudos and congrats to Casa Diablo regular and Vo Dilun native Jim Berkin  (nee, Berkowitz) whose recently published second book in his Professor Wagstaff mystery series is now available via Amazon. Its title is Wagstaff & Meatballs and is loaded with pop culture and Vo Dilun references (from Brown and RISD to OC — that’s organized crime, aka, LCN, for the uninitiated). The book is a detective/mystery/comedy that would make two of its inspirations (Groucho and Providence’s own SJ Perelman) proud.
Jim has been teaching college courses in history, film and television in the southern California area for many years now. We highly recommend this book as a light and fun summer read.
Your superior correspondents do not wish to provide any spoilers so we hope this brief description will suffice. The first Wagstaff mystery, Cut to Wagstaff, is also available on Amazon and, to find out more about the author (one of the few people P&J know who was a contestant on “Jeopardy”), go to jimberkin.com.

I teach college? Who knew? I don’t know about you, but I’m not insisting on a correction!

Now, to be fair – I’ve known Rudy since my college days. I met him when he regularly ran “Comediac,” a weekly screening of so-bad-they’re-great movies at a local bar called One Up that I really miss. He’d screen stuff like Ed Wood films and The Creeping Terror and Humanoids From The Deep and, of course, The Brainiac, while adding one-liners and commentary via a portable mic and speaker.

And yes, this was YEARS before Mystery Science Theater 3000. I always thought Rudy had pioneered the idea.

Those regular Monday night Comediacs, drinks and all, helped me immensely in compiling material for my honors thesis in college. There was no other way I could have been able to see all those films in such a short amount of time in that pre-internet streaming world. I give those Comediac nighta a brief homage in Wagtaff & Meatballs when I refer to an alcohol-improved nerd argument I had with Eagle film critic Les Daniels about Rock & Roll High School during a game of pool.

Rudy wrote two regular columns for those alternative papers, his own “That Proves It” column, titled as a nod to Plan Nine From Outer Space, and co-wrote the Phillipe & Jorge bit as well. His long history with Rhode Island’s rock and blues scene is well known, starting out as the sax player for The Fabulous Motels and then as sax player/comic/songwriter with The Young Adults, who I guess could be Rhode Island’s early 1970s pre-answer to The Tubes meet The Dead Milkmen by way of Bo Diddley, I guess. Members of the Young Adults would go on to play alongside fellow Rhode Island blues legends like Duke Robillard (who I saw live one New Year’s Eve at One Up) and Roomful of Blues.

Rudy would go on to a morning radio gig on the top FM rock station in Providence after I moved away from Providence, as well as an AM afternoon talk radio program.

Rudy would appear with the Young Adults in the Rhode Island based rock comedy It’s A Complex World, the title coming from one of the Adults’ best loved songs.  Much more information on the film at the link!

Rudy suffered a stroke in the past year, but he’s been recovering nicely through the struggle. Slowly but surely, he’s lost weight and gotten his energy back, and is gradually recovering dexterity and mobility. His eye surgery was also a complete success and he can once again see out of both eyes. Well, how the hell do you think he read my book, anyway?

Best of luck to Rudy in his recovery, and thanks for the mention in the column. It’s not easy way out here in California to spread word about Wagstaff & Meatballs in Rhode Island, where everyone LOVES anything about Rhode Island, so thanks for the help!



Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Kellogg’s 1972 All-Time 3D Greats – Babe Ruth May 30, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’m not sure how many boxes of Kellogg’s Danish Go-Rounds I snarfed down to get the all-time great 3D card in every box. But it must have been a lot.

Thanks, mom, for buying them! Never mind my teeth and the sugar high, I guess as long as it kept this then-little bastard full and happy, it meant keeping it on the weekly grocery list for Almacs!

And with my mouth stuffed with pastry, I couldn’t talk. Certainly a win for mom.

I’ve got a lot of the cards, but some of ’em might have come in trades for other 3D cards, or more likely, assorted traditional Topps cards.

I prized this one the most. I also agree with it.

They had greatest cards for every position – Greatest First Baseman (Gehrig, if you’re curious), Greatest Shortstop (Wagner), Greatest Right Hand Pitcher (Walter Johnson) along with some runners-up like George Sisler and Eddie Collins. The backs were manna for this baseball history geek – lifetime stats & a bio, along with some basic analysis justifying the ranking.

Before the internet, that kind of writing was hard to find!

You kids and your damn fancy interwebs, by cracky, get off my lawn….

Every now and then I look on ebay for cards to complete my set of these. They’re not too expensive, although I don’t get 1970s pre-high fructose corn syrup sugary breakfast pablum with ’em.

And which ones are out of date? Has anyone come along since 1972 to assume the BEST at any position? I’d certainly argue for Derek Jeter at shortstop. And I’d add a “Best Relief Pitcher Ever” card for Mariano Rivera. It’s the Yankee fan in me, I guess.

I vividly remember the endless arguments I’d have with my baseball card collecting friends back then over this card. Ruth? Greatest ever? C’MON! You gotta be kidding! EVERYONE knows Ted Williams was a better hitter and woulda put up numbers like Ruth if he hadn’t missed those years in military service! NO, WRONG! EVERYONE knows Mantle was better, since if he hadn’t blown out his knee stepping on that sprinkler in 1951 he’d’ve outdone the numbers AND WHAT ABOUT HANK AARON and….


Just…. NO!

Ruth is the best ever.

His hitting stats are on par with the best hitters of the game. Is he the best hitter ever? Well, I’ll conceded that’s arguable… but NONE of those other hitters – Aaron, Mays, Williams, Griffey Jr., Bernie Carbo…

Okay, maybe not Bernie Carbo. But I always liked the guy.

Anyway, NONE of them could PITCH.

Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the American League for the Red Sox. He set records that held for 80 years or more. If he had continued pitching, he’d’ve been mentioned in the same comparison pieces as Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, instead of being compared to Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, and every other slugger IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING HISTORY OF THE GOD DAMN GAME.

AND he got more hookers than ALL OF THEM COMBINED!



I don’t think Kellogg’s listed the hookers on the back of the card (or their stats), however. Despite the 3D, there just wasn’t enough room.

I’d like to think the immortal babe ate Danish Go-Rounds off naked hookers bodies. It’s the Yankee fan in me.



Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1962 Wally Moon (No Cap) May 28, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I started this baseball card of the day exercise to keep me freshly writing on this blog. Hopefully it’ll rev me up enough to post some longer pieces on television, movies, and the like. And ultimately, it’ll get me into the ZONE to start working on a new book.

Although – BREAKING NEWS! – I plan on putting an older novel on Amazon fairly soon, once some additional work in completed on it. Watch this space for details!

Another benefit of the baseball card exercise is how it’s made me dig through my boxes and albums of all my cards. I’ve forgotten so much of what I actually have that opening the boxes and discovering some of the cards in my collection is like finding them for the first time at some yard sale or thrift store! I got that same little adrenaline rush, I guess.

I haven’t bought new cards for years. As much as I’m still a sports fan, it wouldn’t have the same vibe to it, I’d never sit around looking at all of them, and much like the complete sets I bought in the 1980s, they’d mostly just sit in their boxes. The older cards connect more to childhood memories, or much more often, my fascination with legendary players, stars and motifs of the past.

The motif I loved about this Wally Moon card from 1962 ought to be obvious – LOOK AT THAT DAMN UNIBROW!!!! IT’S AWESOME!!!

Moon was an all-star outfielder who won Rookie of the Year in ’54 with the Cardinals. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He’d get dealt to the Dodgers in 1959 after a weak season, but bounce back to some decent hitting in support of the bigger sluggers on the team. Mostly a defensive star, Moon earned a Gold Glove and would be an integral part of 3 Dodger championships in 1959, 1963 and 1965.


And as an added bonus, my exploration of my card collection opened my eyes to various quirks in the history of Topps. There were TWO versions of Moon’s card in 1962: mine, where he has no cap, and this other one where he’s wearing it. And it figures the cap version is the more valuable one. Ah well. At least you can still see the unibrow.

Moon played sports in a different era, all right. If you’re a major sports star in 2017 recognized for your unibrow, you trademark it like Anthony Davis of the Pelicans did.

Now THAT’S a yiddishe kopf!

Non-Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1964 Jim Bunning May 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Hall of famer Jim Bunning died today at age 85. Bunning pitched for the Tigers, Phillies, Dodgers and Pirates during his career, and compiled some impressive stats along the way. When he retired in 1971, his career strikeout total was 2nd only to Walter Johnson (both have been passed by numerous pitchers since).  He had a great curve ball and solid fastball and much like Greg Maddux, would fool batters mixing up pitches, speeds and locations.

He’d pitch a perfect game in 1964, and had thrown an additional no-hitter back in 1958, making him one of a very few pitchers who had pitched a no-no in both leagues. While he never led the league in stats, he’d always be up there in the top 3-5 pitchers, year in and year out from the late ’50s to the late ’60s.

The bridesmaid-never-a-bride motif carried over into the post-season, however. Bunning’s teams never made it, the 1964 Phillies being the most heartbreaking. The Phillies led the NL from opening day onwards in 1964, but collapsed spectacularly in the last 2 weeks of season. Up by 6 1/2 games with only 12 to go, they’d drop 10 straight games and lose out to the Cardinals. Manager Gene Mauch took the blame, mostly for overusing pitchers Bunning and Chris Short down the stretch and exhausting both of ’em. I still remember the 1976 All Star game, played in Philly, when Gene Mauch was announced as one of the NL coaches and the entire stadium erupted in the loudest boos I’d ever heard. The Phillies had only made the series twice in their entire history at that point, losing both times in 1915 and 1950. They wouldn’t win one until 1980.

Bunning retired from baseball and went into politics back in his homestate of Kentucky, first in local offices, then the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. His popularity within the state waned and he retired from politics, succeeded by current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has never thrown a no hitter.

While it might have been more fun to watch Bob Gibson or Bill Lee become a Senator and scare the shit out of opponents or simply confuse them, respectively, Bunning’s stellar baseball career clearly contributed to his popularity.

Why did I pick the 1964 card? Well, it’s the year of his perfect game, it’s the oldest card I have of him, and I miss when guys had that Johnny Unitas haircut. RIP, Jim.

CORRECTION: It is NOT the oldest card I have of him! Had a little brain itch when I said that, so I went through a couple of the boxes and, sure enough, I have the 1959. Yay for hazy memories of buying giant lots of old cards at yardsales twenty-plus years ago!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1969 Dock Ellis May 25, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Ellis logged some impressive seasons for the Pirates in the early ’70s, spent a productive year with the Yankees in ’76, and then spiraled downwards as his drug problems overtook his abilities.

After overcoming a diagnosis of sickle-cell trait, Ellis would become part of the Clemente-Stargell Pirate team of the early ’70s that managed a World Championship and remained the premiere power in the NL east really until Philadelphia would take over that role in the late ’70s, save for the “We Are Family” 1979 Pirate last-gasp.

Ellis would only pitch when high on speed, mostly. He claimed he pitched his 1970 no-hitter while on LSD. He couldn’t feel the ball and could only read the catcher Jerry May’s signals via reflective tape on May’s fingers. He’d hallucinate that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire.

In other words, he enjoyed that game way more than anyone else.

He said the scariest experience he ever had pitching was pitching sober for a game in 1973.

Ellis was also an outspoken critic of the bad racial attitudes still hanging around baseball in the ’70s, fighting with managers and owners over various issues involving money & dignity. Once when missing a team bus with some teammates, he did not have his ID and got maced by a security guard when Ellis tried to prove who he was by shoving his World Series ring in the guard’s face.

He particularly hated the Reds, not only as rivals in the NL, but clearly on the level of “vendetta.” Once in a 1974 game, he’d bean or attempt to bean EVERY Reds batter in the first inning of the game, getting pulled by Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh after hitting the first 3 (Rose, Driessen, Morgan), walking the 4th (Perez), and throwing behind and at the head of the fifth (Bench).  Easy to see how much the game has changed in 40 years – now, the 2nd hit batter or the 1st thrown behind would get the umpire to throw you out of the game, even if it WAS Richard Nixon.

Eventually the Pirates got fed up with his attitude and insisted he be included in the trade with the Yankees where Doc Medich got swapped for Willie Randolph, a deal that would pay dividends for the Yankees for many years to come. Ellis would give them one great season in 1976, helping them to win their first pennant in a dozen years, though he’d lose to those hated Reds in the World Series.

After a fight with Steinbrenner (shocking, huh?), he’d get dealt to the A’s for Mike Torrez, bounce from them to the Rangers, fight with the Rangers’ manager over the no-alcohol policy, get dealt to the Mets and finally back to the Pirates before retiring in 1980.

He’d also finally sober up in 1980, giving up drugs and alcohol. Maybe giving up baseball was the key.

But points to Ellis. Much like the formerly self-destructive NFL QB Ryan Leaf, he’d turn things around and become an addiction counselor and work with minor league players to overcome their own substance problems. But the abuse he’d put himself through had caught up to him. He develop some serious liver problems, get heart problems waiting for the liver transplant, and die too early at age 63.

But at least he’d exorcised most of his demons by then.  He was anything but boring.